Misfit Society Coffee Club opened in March at the base of the Six11 student high-rise on E. University. It’s a familiar space to owner Spencer Raymond, who previously had a Grabbagreen franchise there. His three Michigan locations of the small food-and-juice chain failed during the pandemic, but now he’s back with an original concept that gives him more freedom to innovate and respond to local markets.

A Brighton native who still lives in Livingston County, Raymond majored in hospitality at Michigan State and worked for a “very strict, very corporate-run restaurant” chain called J. Alexander’s. It was “very organized, and systems were a huge piece,” he reflects. “But I just feel as if there was a missing element of culture. They tell you that there’s a culture, but it just never felt real.”

Raymond’s three Grabbagreen franchises failed in the pandemic. Creating his own concept gives him more freedom to innovate and respond to local markets.

So for his next business, Raymond, thirty-three, decided to do a “deep dive into the culture piece.” He recalls attending a six-hour workshop and “coming out of it with everything being very super. You know, we’re superheroes, and we’re selling super food, and we’re supplying super service.

“It’s just a really high bar to set,” he realized. “Normal people can’t be Superman.”

The “misfit” motif both reflects that revelation and creates a brand identity celebrating imperfection. “Maybe to some it’s like a put-down or not necessarily a compliment, but it really should be looked at as a rite of passage,” Raymond says. “Somebody that maybe doesn’t fit in the normal box but is unique in their own way. And as a group, as a concept, and as a culture, we’re all accepting of people.”

As his general manager, Ben Lewis, who formerly owned the Zingerman’s offshoot Lazy Dogs food cart, succinctly puts it, “Restaurants are usually pretty toxic [places to work.] His main goal is to change all that.”

In December 2021, Raymond opened Social Misfits in downtown Grand Rapids, a full-service “waffles, cocktails, and coffee concept.” The more modest coffee shop here seats about forty, but finding a free chair or stool is far from assured in these early weeks.

Pastries come from Crust in Fenton, with their PB&J donuts typically selling out first each day, according to Megan Seeley, the company’s brand-marketing manager. Three burrito options are also available, but the focus is on the coffee, white-labeled from a Michigan-based roaster. Raymond says the offerings range from “single-origin pour-overs with purposefully curated tasting notes” to espresso-based drinks to “more adventurous and eclectic and culinary-inspired lattes that have house-made, small-batched syrups” and fresh garnishes. The Sugar Daddy latte is the top seller so far, with others concocted with such syrups as lavender, chai, coconut, cinnamon-cayenne, and vanilla.

About two-thirds of sales come from online pickups; Raymond touts the Union point-of-sale app as an “extremely user-friendly guest-led ordering platform.”

The decor is a purposefully busy mix of graffiti designs overhead, wheat-pasted wallpaper reproducing 1970s and 1980s rock music cassette covers, and pink neon glowing above the bar. A sole Pony high-top hangs by its lace near a small TV/VHS combo unit rolling old tape.

Ornate vintage frames hold offbeat photos of such celebrities as Ozzy Osbourne, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Deborah Harry, and rapper Mac Miller “before they were in their prime, before they made it, so to speak,” Raymond says. He thinks that’s “relatable” to his core customer base, “students that really haven’t necessarily found exactly who they are, what they’re going to do, or how they’re going to achieve greatness or success.

“There is this sense of eagerness, this sense of, like, they wanted to change the world, but they didn’t necessarily know how,” he adds. “It was purposeful to make that connection to say, ‘You know, you can grow and develop and be something and not necessarily know exactly how you’re going to do it.’’

Misfit Society Coffee Club, 615 East University Ave. Daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m. misfitsocietycoffee.com